Translation

As should be abundantly clear from our commitment to pluralism and thought, the Drunken Boat translation team repudiates the U.S.'s incoming regime with every fiber of our beings. One of our many personal strategies to combat bigotry and autocracy will be to continue to bring you this space that celebrates everything those forces seek to demonize, to attack, to silence. There are many places that deserve your attention and your charity right now, but we'd humbly suggest adding to your list PEN, the century-old institution devoted to protecting "open expression in the United States and worldwide." May none of us need its defense.

 

In our last reading period, Translation at Drunken Boat received several times more submissions than we ever have before. This is thanks in part to the wonderful 24-hour no-fee period, but also because, after five issues, translators have discovered that Drunken Boat's long-established commitment to international voices has been hugely amplified by having a devoted section.

And lest you start imagining the chore of a slush pile, know that these many submissions were overwhelmingly of such a high caliber that whittling the pile down felt like an impossible task. We were forced to turn down work that would make any publication proud, and only made it through by focusing on this section's commitment to edge play and hybridity—to, as our call puts it, "work that knows translation is a conversation; important voices that have been marginalized; voices too contemporary, too rooted, or too resistant to have yet reached English-reading, um, ears."

Before giving readers an overview of the ten pieces that made the final, painful cut, I'd like to begin by  focusing on one that spoke to me in particular. In his introduction to four stunning poems by Feng Na, translator Henry Zhang speaks of the poet's temptation and ultimate resistance to make herself "the Chinese poet Euro-American readers want," as well as his own thoughtful resistance to playing up her "Tibetanness." In the reflexively colonizing category of "world literature," these two moves—the pandering generalization and the specific exotizing—are all too easy and commercially savvy. We were drawn to the way in which poet and translator, poems and translations navigate and sometimes directly address the expectations of place and identity, as in "Birthplace," which begins: "People always bring up my birthplace, / a cold Yunannese place with camellias and pines. / It taught me Tibetan, and I forgot." And then, in sober, precise pieces like "For Whom Are Poems Written," Feng Na reminds us of the displacement and alienation that determine all of our experiences of one another: "A reader of poetry mistakes the poet’s meaning. / Each gropes for the world’s switch amid her own darkness."

Elsewhere in the issue, this section's interest in experimental reworkings is taken up by "The Golden Age," medievalist David Hadbawnik's transgressive "dystranslations" of Virgil, inspired by transformational translations such as Jack Spicer's Lorca and Anne Carson's Sappho.

Then, in another genre—and translation—bending experiment, Alex Niemi translates Belgian writer and musician Vincent Tholomé's John Caging of John Cage. Excerpted from The John Cage Experiences, Tholomé's "A doctor's visit" uses aleatory games to "turn the famous composer into a poetic experiment."

Clearly, there was no way we could resist an excerpt from Alix Anne Shaw's Rough Ground: A Translation of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus from Philosophy into Poetry. Shaw's project began with well-worn experimental techniques of substitution and enjambment, wrestling the abstruseness of Wittgenstein into the intuitive, internal logic of poetry, before coming to form "a loose narrative, involving a main character who experiences the trauma of atomic warfare. The result is the loss of language through which her experience can be understood and expressed."

Next up are three pseudo-biographical narratives too rock and roll for conventional genre or straight prose. First, blasting The Cure, Mercedes Gilliom chases French author Daniel Bourrion down the adolescent highway in "I Was Robert Smith" in sprawling, punctuation-eschewing prose the translator calls "breathless" and "wry."

Second, in Catherine Jagoe's translation of an excerpt from Ave Rock, celebrated Uruguayan author and critic Roberto Echavarren as he takes up the life of Jim Morrison, interweaving "fiction, memoir, and biography" in a glorious narrative that explodes all three.

And third, following these meditations on rock god comes an excerpt from Man in Blue, which takes a similarly hybrid, explosive approach to biography, but focuses on another sort of artist: painter Francis Bacon. Layla Benitez-James brilliantly "back-translates" Óscar Curieses's Spanish narration of the Irish-born artist's constructed diaries, studying his recorded interviews in search of an English voice to bring into the performative conversation.

There's a different kind of resistance at play in Anita Gopalan's translations of Geet Chaturvedi. In poems taken from The Amphibian, she shares with us extraordinary cultural and religious depth, and we thrilled to the translator's profound attempts to provide a glimpse at the context needed to enter into work this rooted. Gopalan highlights the poet's playful use of "meta-reality" to covertly comment on the identity crisis of Indian culture and leaves us with the song of Chaturvedi's "fractual, incoherent world" ringing in our ears.

Finally, we are so, so lucky to publish two pieces that highlight women translating women, both of which feature marginalized experiences and voices insufficiently heard. First, Mary Jane White brings to light a suppressed relationship and expands the English-language oeuvre of towering Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva. With "Girlfriend," White bestows on us a beautiful cycle of emphatic, clamorous, deeply personal love poems Tsvetaeva wrote for Sophia Parnok, another major figure of twentieth-century Russian poetry, who was for many years denied the right to publish.

Last is an excerpt from The Dancing Other, a novel by renowned author Suzanne Dracius that champions métissage and Creolization while it "challenges the pan-African ideal of a return to the origins" through the story of a Martinique woman who "mistakenly embraces cultural traditions that are oppressive to women." Translators Nancy Naomi Carlson and Catherine Maigret Kellogg perform a high-wire act with Dracius's relentless word play and juggling of Creole, Latin, and French slang. It is a joy to conclude this astounding issue with their jaw-dropping accomplishment.

Anna Rosenwong
Translation Editor
November 2016

Anna Rosenwong

Anna Rosenwong is a translator, poet, editor, and educator. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and a PhD from UC Irvine. Her book-length publications include Rocío Cerón’s Diorama (winner of the 2015 Best Translated Book Award), José Eugenio Sánchez's Suite Prelude a/H1N1, and an original collection of poetry, By Way of Explanation. Her literary and scholarly work has been featured in World Literature Today, The Kenyon Review, Translation Studies, The St Petersburg Review, Pool, and elsewhere.